On the day she imposed two 25 to life sentences, judge conducts marriage ceremony for the killer

Eric M. Freedman, the Maurice A. Deane Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at Hofstra University, sent me this link. It is a “must” read if you are interested in thinking about the proper role of trial judges who must sentence people.

Should a judge marry an offender who was convicted of killing another person when that judge presided over the trial and imposed two consecutive 25-year to life terms on the offender?  Does it matter that the marriage ceremony was held on the same day the sentences were imposed?  Does it matter that the victim’s family members were escorted out of the courtroom after the sentencing hearing and prior to the start of the marriage ceremony? Does it matter that the judge baked a cake for the couple? Does it matter that the offender is likely to appeal?

Here’s my quick (not well thought out) take. Primarily out of concern for the victim’s family, I doubt I would have done what this state judge did. I also doubt that there was anything legally or ethically improper about the judge’s compassionate behavior. In fact, I admire her.

What do you think?

RGK

PS Many thanks to Professor Freedman!

38 responses

  1. Wasn’t there ANYONE else who could do it? Even though the family of the victim was not present, no doubt they heard about it. I would be offended if the judge who sentenced the guy who murdered my mother then baked him a cake and presided over his wedding after shooing me out of the courtroom.

  2. I don’t find it compassionate and I don’t find it ethical. I find it grotesque, just as I find it grotesque when capital prisoners about to die by lethal injection have their arms swabbed with alcohol just before a doctor (supposedly behaving ethically, Hippocratic oath notwithstanding) kills them. A judge who can destroy a man’s life (deservedly or not) and then officiate over his marriage, and who can live with the contradictions, is not someone I could ever admire. And the cake is truly deranged.

  3. Dear Judge, you and I have transacted business elsewhere on this blog, concerning Court Reporters, but on this issue, I have to disagree with you. I’m sure I am not the only one and you would expect so. At the very least the judge did it in very bad taste. Thank God there are reasons to appeal judges’ decisions. This is not appealable conduct. But maybe she will be taken up to the judicial qualifications commission of that state. Maybe you might offer your help as a fellow judge offering your particular sympathies on the record in that hearing. I suppose she should have done it at least a month after the offender served at least 30 days more and then have a brief reprieve back in her courtroom where she could have dispensed this kind of the proceeding to smiling faces who may not likely ever consummate this marriage anyway. This is why I got out of being in the criminal courtroom because I really believe the criminal justice system has broken down and is even broken down considerably in the federal system. I cannot imagine being a federal judge where 90% of one’s activity on the bench is criminal in nature, rarely to hear civil cases anymore, many of which cases that are very serious in nature and have national ramifications, and from my research approximately 75% to 85% of all criminal hearings has to do with drugs. How very boring is that?

    I just heard on the news today that the likelihood of the sequester rolling beyond it it’s initial time to be discontinued will instead run for quite some time to come.

    Unfortunately what’s happening with the sequester, as you so adroitly are aware of, will only further deteriorate the federal system to the point that there will be mass exodus of very talented people on the bench.

    Frankly, I know that you are very dedicated, you must be, but dare I say you might be a happier person being an arbitrator with your wealth of knowledge and background dispensing excellent justice but at $500 per hour as I know some arbitrators who have retired from the federal bench are now making far more money and enjoying themselves a lot more in a far more relaxed environment.

    But notwithstanding those gut feelings about the future of the federal court system long-term, I do really hope that the American Society, which is Congress, both that the house of representatives and the Senate, smarten up. Are you still love the Republicans, I loved it Pres. Ronald Reagan, but also I loved it another great president, a Democrat, President Bill Clinton, And I have every respective for Pres. Obama. The Republicans today, especially the tea party Republicans, I find them becoming more un-American every month of the year. They are on embarrassment to the world. We are the only Western industrialized country that does not have national healthcare.

    I realize I have gone off your topic, but who knows, maybe it will invoke some responses to both your initial comments on what this judge did or should have done, but also on my comments.

  4. P.S. But, like you, I admire anyone who follows their convictions regardless of what others think. Events are rarely as black and white as they appear to those on the outside looking in as they Monday morning quarterback.

    I have mentioned before my seventeen year old client who pled guilty to second degree murder after shooting the Weedman’s wife in the back as she tried to run away. My impassioned plea for mercy brought tears to the judge’s eyes as I described his grim childhood, but she followed the law and gave him two consecutive life sentences. I suspect that, as an equally kind and compassionate judge, if I had asked her to marry my client to his childhood sweetheart on a later date, she would have. But I’m not so sure about the cake.

    The lesson is that we should not vilify the judge unless we were there and know the entire story, or have walked a mile in her robe.

  5. Richard,

    I understand your view that the judge’s action in marrying the killer and providing a cake was grotesque. I don’t understand your view that the judge’s actions were unethical. Clarify that for me, please.

    All the best.

    RGK

  6. Steve,

    Shouldn’t we assume that a judge can faithfully apply the criminal law at sentencing and faithfully apply the civil law during a marriage ceremony even if the object of both proceedings is the same offender and both proceedings take place on the same day? If the answer is “yes,” aren’t we really left to discussing only matters of individual taste and a visceral dislike of the offender and his crime?

    All the best.

    RGK

  7. at first when I read it I thought she (the judge) married the defendant and I thought it might be the onion. note to self – no more three martini lunches; :).

  8. Definitely not. Perhaps this is why our stupid index in this country is rising every year when even judges are less respected by “bimbo” actions taken by people who wear the robe. I am not saying she is a bimbo, it is what she deserves to be characterized as bimbo in nature. At least wait a few days. If you are so proud of her actions, perhaps she has a name and a court jurisdiction so I can follow the local news as common decent people cry out in disgust at her cold hearted behavior disrespecting half of we Americans (hopefully the percentage is much higher) who find that even performing a wedding – a mockery of the wedding ceremony – in this venue and done at the time she did it. If she unlike you was elected to the bench, who knows, she might be out on the street looking for you to sigh her CJA lawyer’s fees now lowered by $15 per hour if she lives and works in your jurisdiction. So I request her name and courthouse jurisdiction, if you would be so good as to provide it. If you won”t, then I really don’t believe you yourself really believe what she did was truly acceptable behavior. What say you?

    And as always, all the bet to you as well.

    TSH

  9. My view of judicial (and lawyer) ethics is considerably broader than the vague rules found in the canons. If it looks questionable to a non-lawyer, then to me a judge shouldn’t do it. Those of us who work in the system can have our own views, and parse the canons and precedents closely. But one’s reactions to a situation are perforce political and personal. This one just seemed over the top to me, and therefore unethical….not so unethical that the judge should be disciplined but just really questionable judgment. And I don’t have to walk a mile in a judge’s robes to say that it’s just plain bad taste…

    I have an experience right now here in New York, where I politely asked a judge at the outset of a major case to recuse himself because of his prior working relationship with my adversary, and he refused. This might be common and acceptable in smaller states and districts, where everyone knows each other and deals with each other repeatedly, but in New York, it shouldn’t be. The standards, and the rules governing recusal, are the same everywhere, yet this just looks bad, and in my view, a judge should avoid the slightest question raised about her impartiality.

    Ultimately, I suppose it comes down to one’s politics…and you already know mine from previous posts. I am a legal realist, and know all too well how judges can use the law to reach the result they want.

  10. WOW, Steve Hubbard. Just… WOW.

    “Bimbo?” Really? Because somebody did something you don’t agree with? Who made YOU the arbiter of judicial conduct.

    Let ye without sin cast the first stone. And be careful of stones in that glass house you live in.

  11. Richard,

    Thanks very much. I appreciate your elaboration.

    As an aside, I began practice in a county (forget about the “city”) that had far fewer people than cows. With that in mind, the first motion I filed as a practicing lawyer was a recusal motion against our district judge. He was hearing an equity case, and we thought it a bit much that the lawyer on the other side was representing the judge as the personal representative of the estate of the judge’s mother. With obvious irritation, the judge granted the motion. As you might predict, the next several years were rocky anytime I appeared before his Honor. Yes, we both are legal realists.

    All the best.

    RGK

  12. San Diego Superior Court Judge Patricia Cookson. Google is amazing. Just watch how California’s Judicial Qualifications Commission looks at this. I predict at least a public apology and some form of reprimand. Even Steve Cline, the killer’s lawyer said, “I have never seen anything like it.” Dumb, dumber and dumbest.

    Judge, I like you. I really do. But on this one your opinion is over the top.

    Who knows, maybe some day you will be asked to do the same. On the same day even. Tell us, would you?

    Let’s assume it was a drug deal gone bad. One miserable druggie kills another druggie. He wants to get married. Would you do it on the same day as his sentencing! Same sentence?

    Now, let’s assume we have a scenario where the killer first tortured the deceased? And the appeared to be repentent? Would you?

    Interesting prospects. What say you?

    TSH

  13. Yes, Susan! You are not reading me correctly. I said she is not a bimbo, but I am quite sure RJK knows a few of them himself, but is too kind to state who they are. I said it was her act that is characterized as being BIMBO in nature.

    Don’t ruin your credibility because you are not reading comments correctly.

    All the Best

    TSH

  14. HOLY SHIT. I cannot BELIEVE that experienced lawyers feel so comfortable making judgments about a person they don’t know in a situation about which they have only a few facts. I know now that it’s human nature, but I expected better from attorneys, although I’m not exactly sure why. I learned a lot about this “guilty until proven innocent” mind set recently.

    I just wrapped up sentencing in a federal sex trafficking case that took three years to resolve. The allegations were, to put it mildly, horrifying. (You can look it up. USA v. Edward Bagley.) But that’s all they were — allegations. The truth never had an opportunity to be heard because I ultimately accepted the fact that no one wanted to hear it and certainly 12 people from the Western District of Missouri who hadn’t read “50 Shades of Grey” would believe it was all consensual. So we pled to a very narrow factual basis on a much lesser charge. The point is, people accepted the very biased and limited version of events put forth by the federal prosecutor in the indictment and media as though it were gospel. Due to local rules, I was extremely limited in what I could say to the press, even though I walked pretty close to the edge. I was surprised and disheartened to recognize that EVERYONE, including my educated, liberal friends, formed opinions based entirely on the limited picture painted by the prosecution. There was so much more to the story than anyone would ever know, but the public felt entitled to judge based on what they read in the paper, which was just a sliver of what actually took place.

    Similarly, you are picking up your torches and pitchforks and condemning this judge’s actions when YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT IT. What gives you the right to judge your fellow (wo)man based on a third party’s description of events you didn’t even see? SHAME ON YOU.

  15. Being a bimbo vs. acting like a bimbo. Hair splitting, Steve. And your use of the term “bimbo” to describe a member of the bench’s actions smacks of sexism.

  16. Susan, maybe she is a man dressed in drag? No, she is female. Hair splitting? No. I was very direct. The story you related to us is totally different. I would not presume to comment on your case in what you did or did not do as I did not hear the pretrial motions leading up to the plea. We are restricting our San Diego judge to her very limited actions on bringing in cake and marrying two people in a marriage ceremony that should have been done in a church of God, maybe even by the same judge, but well after the killer was sentenced and not as the murdered victim’s family is walking out of the courtroom! Perhaps we here in America are becoming more stupid every day, as the Department of Education tells us that our Stupid Index is rising nationally.

    At some point in the very near future, within 20 years, every judge is going to be dealing with very uneducated people even at the professional level, lawyers, cops, probation, especially ever increasing uneducated stupid jurors who cannot distinguish truths from lies, et cetera …. We will not be able to distinguish between the criminal stupid mind (i am not including criminal behavior) and stupid thinking people who are litigating and dispensing justice.

    TSH

  17. Susan, I believe that you are conflating the presumption of innocence, a profoundly important legal concept–but one which only really matters in a courtroom–with the normal human reaction to have opinions about events. Whereas in your case, there was much more to the situation, you were in the impossible position of being silenced by ethical rules and thus unable to tell your clients’ side of the story in public. But what about this story of the sentencing-and-then-marrying judge don’t we know? Would anything beyond the bare facts make a difference? By your argument, no one could have an opinion before conducting an investigation. But life is too short, sadly.
    I have represented plaintiffs in libel cases against media defendants. The outcome hardly matters; the reputation is always damaged. If we had but time…..but we don’t.

  18. Southern Law Student, this is why at least in state courts, not so in federal courts, there are appointed victims rights advocates who represent the feelings of those relatives of the murdered.

    We use too often the cane of “I will not sit in judgment of another”. For many things that happen in life you are right on point. Ergo I refer to the stupid index in our country. Thank goodness King Solomon made WISE judgments. This is a judge thing. For sure. Let us not misplace WISE compassionate judgment with unstable thinking by someone who is supposedly sporting the intellect that this judge is presumed to possess. She may well exercise great judgment in 99% of her cases and she may well someday be nominated for the state Supreme Court, but this story of her past will come back to haunt her professional career.

    I have never said what she did was never to happen. It is the timing. It’s like reading the newspaper and just after reading about a tragic story, right below is a picture of something that is totally an affront to your basic humanity and COMPASSION for the other side of the story as in our case the victim’s family.

    Dumb, stupid, et cetera.

    Judge Cookson will be more remembered for this one act of distorted act of compassion. She is in the woods on this one for a ver long time.

    TSH

  19. Well, let’s look at the rights of the beloved bride in this case, should she not be allowed to be married by whatever judge she so desires, and marry whoever she so desires? Remember, it takes two to tangle. In addition, having worked in the penal system before becoming an attorney, I found that married prisoners were much easier to control that the single inmates. Kudo to the judge for having foresight and common sense.

  20. Hey, I am all for marriage. She’ll likely will never enjoy her married separated life with this character. Just watch. Within two years she wil ask for a divorce after she wakes up from the dream that she is denying herself a real marriage. Would it not be strange but real irony for her to go to Cookson for that divorce?

    No, she can marry every creep that comes before her if she chooses, it was all the bad sense of timing. Dumb dumber and dumbest.

  21. Ah, Steve Hubbard, you totally missed my point, which was married inmates are better behaved in prison that single inmates…..my comments about the beloved bride was tongue in cheek, sorry you missed reading between the lines! So get off your moral timing high-horse and reread my post. Anyway, who died and made you King of timing? And if she wants to marry a convicted killer, so let be it! Ah, this reminds of an old Beatles’ song, too! Kudos to the Judge, again! BTW, are you an attorney?

  22. You wrote earlier about the angst that you sometimes feel when pronouncing sentences that, although legally correct, you find emotionally excessive.

    I am impressed that the judge 1) provided cake, when apparently neither asked nor expected to do so and 2) volunteered the fact that, of all the ways a judge can come up with a cake given several days notice, she had baked the cake herself. There is something to me human and personal about the judge’s decision to prepare food on her own time for someone she was about to sentence. (I am of course, ignoring the possibility that she baked the cake, brought it to work to share, and said “what the heck, why not give some to the people I just married.”)

    I wonder if the judge elected to reclaim some of the humanity that she necessarily lost by imposing two life sentences on a newlywed. I wounder if you find a post sentencing display of humanity to be appropriate or effective in that regard.

    As for the victim’s family, I would not understand their being upset. (We are not told that they are.) The judge sentenced the defendant to two life terms: presuming that death was off the table, then the sentence was quite harsh. Are we not allowed to befriend convicts for fear of offending their victims? Is the judge required by social custom to hate everyone she sentences? I see the action as the opposite – the judge confirms the rectitude of her severe sentence by imposing it it on someone whom she clearly sees as a human and is willing to cook for.

    I am not a lawyer, I have no opinion if it was ethical. I am a human and I admire her compassion — and the professional risk she took amplifies that compassion

  23. John,

    I very much appreciate your comment and insights. There is indeed something about reclaiming the judge’s humanity–indeed everyone’s humanity–in this story. And there is real risk to the judge in having done so. That’s probably why I admire her even though I don’t think anyone would want to eat a cake that I prepared.

    All the best.

    RGK

  24. Dear Judge, nobody wants to address her sense of timing. Will you tell me as an advocate supporting what she did, that what she did was done in good taste as the victim’s family was ushered out of her courtroom? Please explain. Thank you.

  25. Steve:
    The judge owes you no explanation or justification for his opinion. In the mean time, YOU have failed to respond to a question: Are you an attorney?
    And I have an additional question. Why are you so aggressive and abrasive about this topic when it doesn’t affect you?

  26. Susan, aggressive is your characterization. Opinionated, certainly. As is certainly every statement here that broadcasts a conviction. No, I am not an attorney. I am a court reporter very familiar with judges from state courts to the federal courts and there are all types, most of whom thank goodness are level headed and deserve to be on the bench.

    I have a deep conviction about certain things. Does this affect me what happened in Cookson’s courtroom? Sure it does. We are all part of a huge family in the USA. What happens in San Diego could eventually happen where you live all because the Internet enables total strangers to consider what happened and either do the same or take another tact.

    So I care a lot about what happened.

    You are not reading my comments correctly. I have said she can do as she pleases marrying as many confused lonely souls she likes, it is strictly the specific timing that draws the ire and contempt not just from me but also from others in this blog.

    And if RGK cannot speak for himself on my specific question, silence sometimes speaks volumes and I do not say that to be impudent. As far as I am concerned we are all equals on this blog. Just addressing our opinions. Plain and simple.

  27. Steve,

    I ask that you try hard to be more civil. Strongly felt opinions are fine. Just think before you write. Thanks.

    All the best.

    RGK

  28. Judge, thank you for your words of caution. Notwithstanding, I have been civil. Passionate in my beliefs but certainly not less than civil. The jury is still out on this one. Give it a few months and let’s see what happens how the JQC in California handles Cookson’s case. Maybe she is soon up for reelection. Who knows. Will the public forget by that time? I do agree with you on this. She has opened herself up to possible personal harm as there are in our American society today far too many crazies who will totally misinterpret what she did.

    Her very bad sense of timing.

    The press is there to cover a man’s two life sentences for murder. On the heels of just finishing sentencing she officiates and celebrates the offender’s wedding.

    She could have done it quietly 30 days later – for her own protection – at least and only the three of them would have known about it plus a few courthouse deputies.

    Dumb.

    All the best.

    TSH

  29. Steve,

    Fair enough. In fact, your counsel–“She could have done it quietly 30 days later”–sounds very wise to me.

    Thanks for understanding. I appreciate it.

    All the best.

    RGK

  30. Nothing says “happy two life sentences” like a wedding cake from the judge that sentenced you AND married you, right? To each their own when it comes to opinions of the judge but just because she follows what the law states and gives appropriate punishment for the situation (as she should), who is to say she can’t also have a little compassion as well. I’m sure if there were anyone else that could have married them, they probably would have gone with that route. Nevertheless, the whole situation is strange, whether or not it is ethical is for individuals to decide.

  31. Hubbard:

    You’re a Canadian citizen who hasn’t been affiliated with a court since 1990. Why so passionate about this?

    Live and let live, dude.

  32. So that means that every American and non-American who has never been inside an American courtroom should not be interested in their courts and what goes on? Your comment betrays your supposed intellectual prowess. So sad.

  33. Oh, so your are Susan Dill!

    You are Edward Bagley’s special federal public defender, in USA vs. Edward Bagley, a federal case in Missouri. I promise I won’t tell other non-American citizens who live and work in Missouri that we jousted a bit here. I am sure they would be mystified.

    It takes very special people to work with types like Bagley, therefore based on all of your statements herein, yes, I can see you marrying Bagley if he asked you to accommodate his urges but more important his constitutional rights! But I don’t think you would have baked a cake.

    A very good lawyer divorces themselves from the emotional trappings when representing vermin. It is like one day you are a prosecutor, the next day representing the very same types you were just prosecuting.

    However you are much brighter than Cookson.

    You would not have married him to some person who likes him notwithstanding (misplaced compassion), all because we both support his constitutional rights to get married, but you and I (as I am a notary, I could, but would not, i have my personal convictions and limits as you do, as does Cookson) you would have instructed the courtroom deputies, whispering to them, “Deputies, take him downstairs, sit on him for two or three hours, this will allow the press to clear the courtroom, leave he courthouse, all the victims will have left the courthouse complex, then bring back this scoundrel after 5:00 p.m., and Eddy will get married today, then off he goes to federal prison.”

    Had Cookson done the same, I would not have labeled her choice as dumb, stupid, demonstrating her compassion, executing her convictions, upholding a prisoner’s state and US Constituional rights and doing so with the same ferver as you demonstrate, I am sure, when choose to represent the low-lifes in our crumbling American society, yes, kudos to you, somebody has to do it.

    But Cookson by her lack of thinking this through clearly set herself up for a long time to come as a target by both the cruel press and crazies out there in the streets all because of her very poor sense of timing.

    Hopefully the federal sequester is not going to last much longer. Best of luck to you and your practice, may you continue to counsel the dregs of American society and may you also get regularly paid on time.

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